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Take Me Back To The Ballgame

By Mike Toth

The Blue Jays are finally flying home to Toronto.

And just in time for my little buddy's birthday next month, too.

My soon-to-be 14-year old son Theo and his 15-year old bro Max (My TSI blog and podcast partner) are both huge Blue Jays fans and a trip to Rogers Centre has always been a big part of Theo's birthday bash.

We've ordered our tickets for the August 6th tilt against the Boston Red Sox; down near first base so the boys can get a close look at everybody's favorite Jay these days, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

It's hard to believe that Canadian baseball fans haven't been able to attend an MLB game in Toronto for almost two years, as COVID put the bats and balls on the shelf. Going to a Jays game is one of the pure pleasures of the summer for a lot of families, and our diamond-loving gang is no exception.

But even before I became a "family man", attending Jays games was a major part of my life.

As a broadcaster, my very first gig at TSN was hosting "Baseball Tonight" with former Blue Jay Pat Tabler who's now a popular member of the Rogers Sportsnet crew that delivers Jays games to a national television audience. One afternoon in 1998, I took advantage of my media credentials to watch a Jays game from the TV camera bay beside the Toronto dugout. As it turned out, I had the perfect view to watch Jose Canseco (who hammered 46 homers that year in his lone season as a Blue Jay) belt the longest hit baseball I've ever witnessed in person. It soared all the way to the top deck in left field and I couldn't believe a human could hit a ball that hard.

A few years later, of course, Canseco came out with "Juiced" - his spicy tell-all book about the chemical assistance he used to help him blast those baseballs into orbit. Even so, however, that Jose homer was an impressive sight and is permanently burned inside my brain.

Other personal memories of some magical moments at Blue Jays games at Rogers Centre?

Aaron Hill, channeling his inner-Jackie Robinson and pulling off a straight steal of home plate against the big, bad New York Yankees.

Reed Johnson ringing up a rare "dinger double" - leading off the game for the Jays by slugging a home run and then smacking a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th to knock off Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs.

Or how about the ultimate tear-jerker?

Blue Jays fan favorite John McDonald's famous Father's Day home run, which happened just a few days after his beloved dad had passed away.

With that emotional moment in mind, it brings me back to the best part of attending a Blue Jays game; being at the ballpark with your family.

My wife Kathy and I have been lucky to take in a ton of Jays games with our two boys, and the memories are crystal clear.

Watching them when they were still little guys, stuffing their chipmunk cheeks full of overpriced popcorn as they proudly wore their Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie jerseys. (What the heck ever happened to Lawrie anyway?)

Seeing their excitement over getting their souvenir baseball signed; a ball that now includes illustrious signatures such as Danny Barnes, Trent Thornton and "Ace" the mascot. (And with apologies to Danny and Trent, "Ace" is probably the most valuable moniker on that ball.)

Teaching them to keep score - a big-time tradition on Team Toth. My mom was a passionate scorekeeper; although she'd grind her teeth over the irritating defensive shifts that are a huge part of the modern game. Did the second baseman field that ground ball? Or is he positioned in right field and it was actually the shortstop who made the play? (Scorekeepers HATE the shift!)

One of our favorite family memories from our trips to watch the Jays took place just a few years ago. It was Vladdy Jr.'s MLB debut and you could definitely feel an extra jolt of electricity at Rogers Centre.

"Gee, Dad," Max said. "Vladdy is getting a standing ovation even after he hits a foul ball!"

He was right, as fans were going crazy with anticipation every time the big guy walked up to the plate.

Finally, it happened. Vladdy stroked a big double for his first big league hit - a key blow in the Jays comeback win over the Oakland A's, as the crowd went nuts and went home happy.

Now, after almost a two-year COVID delay, the fans are finally set to return to Rogers Centre. With Vladdy exploding to brand new heights and becoming a leading MVP candidate, the expectations of Blue Jays boosters are through the roof.

But who are we kidding?

Sure, we'd love to see Vladdy hit one out on Theo's birthday.

But we're all so thrilled to finally be back at the ballpark that we'll probably give Vladdy a standing 'O' just for fouling one off.

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